The recent swap of Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak has left many Leafs fans pretty upset. After all, the Leafs just traded away a mobile defenceman who can play top pairing minutes for a defenceman who gives up possession way too often against soft competition at even strength. There's no way you can argue that this trade is not a complete bust on the Leafs' end, right?
Well, in my frantic search for anything resembling a silver lining, I came across this tweet from Jonas Siegel.
Polka was second-unit penalty killer for 2nd ranked St. Louis PK last season. Leafs were third-worst. Polak probably aims to address that.— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) June 28, 2014
After I got over my fascination with the obvious spelling error, I asked if Polka Polak could actually improve the Leafs' brutal PK from last season. Looking at the Leafs' PK from last season, they ranked 29th in the NHL with a 6.8% Corsi rating at 4v5. Their 7.3% Fenwick number also ranks 29th. Here's a small glance at how the individual players did in 2013-2014, sorted by total SH time on ice:
|Player||SH TOI||CF%||CF% Rel||FF%||FF% Rel|
|James van Riemsdyk||115.0||9.0%||+3.0%||9.8%||+3.6%|
By the possession numbers, the best penalty killer on the Leafs last season was Mason Raymond. Out of all the Leafs defencemen who played at least 100 shorthanded minutes, only Cody Franson comes out with positive possession numbers (+0.2% CF% Rel, yet a negative Fenwick Rel at -0.6%). Paul Ranger played 99.6 SH minutes and posted both Corsi and Fenwick numbers on the positive end of things.
So how does Polak measure up in SH situations? Here's a look at his numbers next to the now traded Gunnarsson's 4v5 stats.
|Player||TOI||CF%||CF% Rel||FF%||FF% Rel||PDO||PDO Rel|
Polak's SH possession numbers would have easily placed him miles above any Leaf defenceman in 2013-2014. His 164 SH minutes were fourth highest on the Blues last season, and he saw 9 fewer goals against than Barret Jackman did in his 181.6 SH TOI.
So here we can sort of see the positives to adding Polak to the Leafs roster. To his credit, he IS a player capable of positively contributing to a penalty kill, and given how poor the Leafs were at possession when a man short (and in every situation for that matter), any and all help is welcome.
Having said all of this, it does not take a genius to point out that adding one player does not automatically mean the PK will be amazing in 2014-2015. Last season saw way too many Leafs players get completely out-possessed when a man short, and if the group as a whole intends to show improvement going forward, personnel and system changes are required.
And there is also still that little problem of Polak's even-strength numbers...